A Guide to Police Station Procedures
There are certain set procedures that occur when a person is arrested in the UK and this guide is designed to give you an overview of the process, as well as information on a person’s rights and entitlements whilst at the police station.
What is an arrest?
An arrest is the act of apprehending a person and taking them into custody, usually because they have been suspected of committing or planning a crime. In the UK, when a person is arrested, they are usually taken into police custody at the relevant station where they will then be held in a cell and questioned.
In England and Wales, the police make the following statement when arresting a person: "You do not have to say anything, but it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence."
Booking in at the police station
Once in the custody suite, the detainee will be searched and the possessions they have on them will be taken and stored securely before being returned upon their release. In some cases, items may be seized, especially if they are deemed relevant to the investigation. For arrests relating to drugs, a more intimate search may be conducted, and this would take place in a private room.
A custody officer or sergeant will be asked to authorise the individual’s detention for the purpose of questioning, which will take place in a tape-recorded interview. The police will then take fingerprints and a sample of DNA using a mouth swab. They will initially ask the detainee a number of personal questions and these are designed to give them a good understanding on whether the individual has any medical problems or special needs they should know about whilst in custody.
Rights and entitlements
Every citizen who is arrested has the fundamental right to consult the Code of Practice which governs their detention at the police station. They should see a written notice explaining their rights in detail, such as regular breaks for food and to use the toilet. If the detainee does not speak English, they can ask for a notice in their language or have an interpreter explain the notice. They also have the right to receive free legal advice, the right to notify another person of their arrest and the right to have medical assistance if they are feeling ill.
With regards to the phone call, the requirement is only to inform the chosen person of detainment. For example, in most cases a detainee will be allowed to use the telephone to tell a person where they are, however, this call may be made by a member of the police staff. So there is no right for the detainee to make the call themselves, but there is a right to notify a person of their arrest and this call can be made by an officer.
The police can hold a detainee for up to 24 hours before they must either charge the individual with a crime, or release them without charge. In many cases, the police keep people for as long as it takes to interview them, however, in some situations when the police are investigating serious crimes, and a certain criteria is met, they can ask a senior officer to authorise detention for a further period of up to 12 hours (to a maximum of 36 hours).
Prior to the interview, the police may obtain statements, CCTV footage and any relevant documentation. They may also carry out searches if they are authorised to do so. The police will ask the detainee whether they would like legal advice whilst at the station, and if they do not know a solicitor to contact, there is always the option of a duty solicitor, who they can speak to free of charge. Once any enquiries have been concluded and the necessary documentation has been gathered, the case will be handed over to an officer who will conduct the interview. The police will question the detainee about the crime they’re suspected of, but they do not have to answer the questions, however, there may be consequences if they do not.
When the interview has concluded, the officer will consult a senior officer or the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to make a decision as to what happens next, but there are three options.
- The first is that the detainee is bailed or released under investigation and asked to return to the police station at a specified date and time. This is often the case if there is a need for further investigation but no risk to public safety.
- There’s also the option of no further action. This is when there is insufficient evidence to bring a prosecution, or the prosecution does not believe that there is a strong enough case to convict.
- Lastly, the detainee may be charged and either bailed for court, or detained for court proceedings in certain circumstances. They will either be taken to a magistrates court the next morning or released to attend the magistrates court by appointment, usually within a week.
Under 18s and vulnerable adults
For those 18 and under, or for vulnerable adults (those unable to take care of or protect themselves or others from harm or exploitation), the police must try to contact the individual’s parent, guardian or carer. They must also find an ‘appropriate adult’ to come to the station to be present during questioning and searching. An appropriate adult can be a parent, guardian, carer, social worker, family member, friend aged 18 or over, or a volunteer aged 18 or over.
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